Ask RedWeek / June, 2013

How do I avoid timeshare scams?

Why are there so many timeshare scams & how can I avoid them?

Timeshare scams seem to be in the news every day. Fortunately, they are easy to avoid if you know what to expect.

If you are renting or buying:

Most timeshare scams target owners but, as with any marketplace where money is changing hands, renters and buyers may be at risk. Fortunately, we have seen very few fraudulent postings -- probably because we charge membership and posting fees. If you are renting or buying a timeshare, you can protect yourself very easily:

  1. Use a credible escrow service for holding the money. We highly recommend our members use First American Title (we do not collect any fees or commissions for doing so) for both renting and buying. It is the only real way to be sure your money will be returned if the week isn't what was promised.
  2. Get all important details of your purchase in a contract. If the owner promises you a guaranteed view or amenity that is important to you, it needs to be in the contract. Even with escrow, a dispute is not valid unless it is specifically detailed in the contract. Verbal promises, and even the ad itself are not sufficient.

If you are a timeshare owner:

The timeshare resale market can be difficult for sellers, and unfortunately, this makes you more susceptible to scams -- from companies claiming that they're able to take the timeshare that's become a burden off your hands. The Feds are cracking down on these scams, but they are still out there.

These scammers often borrow the name of an established brand to convince you of their legitimacy. They claim to have a buyer for your timeshare, or to be able to easily find one. They ask for money either to cover closing costs or advertising. Many actually go so far as to send you a check (which will later bounce), and ask you to mail the overage elsewhere.

To protect yourself:

  1. Never agree to send any money to anyone without doing your research.
  2. To research, do the following things:
    • Conduct a Google search on the company name, plus the word "scam" -- often you will find others discussing their experience with the company long before an official complaint is filed.
    • Search the RedWeek.com forums - there are many discussions of companies to avoid.
    • Search for the company's name with the Better Business Bureau, and your attorney general's office.
    • If the company looks legit, call or e-mail the company directly -- do NOT use the number they gave you during the solicitation. This is the only way to ensure you are actually doing business with the company you vetted.
  3. Never send funds to anyone who sends you a check for more than your purchase price.
  4. Report any cases of fraud to RedWeek, as well as your state's attorney general to help protect other owners.

If you're in doubt, send the details to RedWeek's customer service staff -- we'll be happy to help.

This month's answer comes from Kylie Kallio, Director of Community at RedWeek.com

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